It's part of human nature to label, classify, and quantify the world around us. We feel empowered when we're able to create structure and meaning out of our surroundings. Maps have been used for thousands of years to that end; enabling us to plot a course, make informed decisions of paths to take, and decide which trajectory will give us desired results. In today's modern culture, digital media has taken mapping to a whole new level, giving us the ability to visualize our world in 3D, and on a global scale
So what do maps have to do with social change?
Potentially, everything. A map is a tool, and historically those that have the best maps win. Several digital and social media tools are in the process of converging to create unprecedented platforms for sharing information in real-time. Whereas software like Google Earth allowed us to visualize on a macro scale, these new tools map information on local levels. GPS software, location based tracking, souveillance, and geotagging are coming together to produce information-rich maps that can be visualized in both space and time. Powered by social media, a space is being created where real-time maps can be used to empower communities to connect and collaborate instantaneously.
For those of you still wondering about the awesome power of open-source software and web apps, which some forecasters believe will comprise 40% of all IT jobs by 2020, the Open Street Map (open version of Google Maps) editorial timelapse above is an illuminating demonstration of how individuals scattered across the globe can work together to quickly assemble a complex information graph.
Still doubting the power of digital altruism? Consider that over the next few years we'll move closer to always-on, hi-def, GPS-enabled life-logging devices, which will make contributing rich information to such 3D wikis much easier, if not nearly automatic. Mix in some smarter software that understands where to contextually arrange data and we're likely looking at serious acceleration of open-source graphing projects, which would help explain why the % of open-source jobs is expected to rise so significantly.
The Global Brain is hard at work. Emerging technology, software, information and social norms are speeding up its top-down, bottom-up and hybrid knowledge generation.
In its effort to catalog and effectively share the world’s
information, Google continues to improve its dynamic representation
of earth and has now extended its reach to cities and towns.
The first time I experienced Google Earth, I was pretty
impressed. Accessing satellite information, I was able to navigate
most any location on the planet that I was interested in, from a
bird’s eye view. Of course the first thing I did was check out my
street, the homes of my past, and landmarks around my town.
Next I was introduced to Street View, a
visualization composed of photos taken from automobiles that allows
full 3D street navigation. It wasn’t until a few weeks ago, when
Street View was at last integrated with Google Maps, that I could
travel down my street take a glance at my house and my car parked
neatly on the curb. That was really cool to me. I found myself
wondering where I was the time the photos was taken, and being
thankful they hadn’t caught me outside my
house in an early morning stupor.
After some light research I found that Google isn’t just
concerned with satisfying my curiosity. It has found ways to make
money with this technology while expanding its functionality for
important, decision-making parties.
Google introducing advanced versions of the platform with
Pro ($400/year), a collaborative tool for commercial and
professional use and Google Earth
Plus ($20/year) for everyday map enthusiasts. It also provides
non-profit organizations with Earth Outreach, a
program that allows organizations to map their projects to help
In March 2008, Google Earth introduced Cities in 3D which is
unsurprisingly a complete 3D visualization of numerous cities. To
contribute to this effort, users can submit and share renditions of
structures and buildings using Google’s SketchUp. The program
primarily relies on city governments to submit their 3D information
electronically (for free) and invites them to review the
The benefits for local governments seem rather extensive. They
include: engaging the public in planning, fostering economic
development, boosting tourism, simplifying navigation analysis,
enhancing facilities management, supporting security and crime
prevention, and facilitating emergency management.
Forget about Google vs. Microsoft, the King of Search is building its foundation for conquering the mobile web experience and introducing software services that go far beyond desktop based keyword searches. Welcome to Google’s platform of the future – Android.
The future battle for consumer ‘web apps’ might heat up faster on smart mobile devices than desktops. This puts Google in direct competition with the iPhone and its App Store. But Google must move quickly to secure relationships with handset makers, and it needs developers to fall in love with the Android platform.
Last week, Google announced its winners of the first round of Android platform applications that include: cab4me’s one-click call to local cab services based on your location, CompareEverywhere’s camera bar code based price comparison, Ecorio’s automatic calculations of your carbon footprint, Breadcrumb’s picture based map creator, and PiggyBack’s car-pooling and ride-sharing application. These applications give users much more than simple search results. They help synchronize our lives and bring the web into the real world.
These apps and others will be part of Google’s Android Marketplace -an open content distribution system that will help end users find, purchase, download and install various types of content on their Android-powered devices.
The next two years will be an exciting time for mobile apps as mainstream Internet experiences evolve from websites to web services- and from desktops to mobile devices. The role of next generation mobile software services could be the key to success. Apple understands this future reality, but Google is not standing still- and Steve Jobs will be watching.